Symptoms of Food Sensitivity

A food sensitivity or intolerance can cause various symptoms, including skin, digestive, and respiratory symptoms. In some cases, the symptoms of food sensitivity and food allergy are similar, but a food sensitivity is not the same as a food allergy, which may be life-threatening.

This article will discuss food sensitivity symptoms, possible complications, and when to see a healthcare provider.

A person experiencing lactose intolerance

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Intolerance, Allergy, or Sensitivity?

A food sensitivity is not a formally recognized medical diagnosis. The term may be used instead of food intolerance, or the term may be used as an umbrella term for both intolerance and allergy. A food intolerance is not the same as a food allergy.

A food allergy involves the immune system. If the immune system considers a particular food a threat, it makes antibodies to protect the body. This triggers an allergic reaction and can cause symptoms like a skin rash or difficulties breathing.

A food intolerance involves the digestive system, not the immune system. An intolerance occurs when a person has trouble digesting a certain type of food. Unlike allergies, a person with an intolerance may still be able to eat small amounts of that food without any problems.

This article will refer to food sensitivity as a term that means food intolerance.

Frequent Symptoms

A food sensitivity can cause a variety of symptoms, though these may vary between people.

Some of the most common symptoms of food sensitivity or food intolerance include:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin rash
  • Itching

These symptoms will typically occur within a few hours of eating food that a person is intolerant to.

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine if symptoms are from a food sensitivity or something else. This is because some food sensitivity symptoms can commonly be found in other conditions. These include:

Other Symptoms

A range of other signs and symptoms are also possible. These include:

  • Headache or migraine (a recurrent throbbing headache)
  • Vomiting
  • Flushed skin
  • Hives
  • Acid reflux or heartburn
  • Nervousness or irritability
  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Eczema (an inflammatory skin condition)
  • Swelling of the skin
  • Wheezing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Palpitations


There are a variety of food sensitivities and food intolerances. One of the most common forms of food intolerance is lactose intolerance.

Roughly 68% of the global population has lactose intolerance, which can cause symptoms like gas and bloating. Lactose intolerance is an example of a food sensitivity that can lead to complications.

Those with lactose intolerance may avoid lactose-containing foods like dairy, but these foods are also a good source of a variety of minerals and vitamins, including:

  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin A
  • Calcium
  • Protein

Lactose also assists in the absorption of magnesium and zinc. All of these are important for bone health.

People with lactose intolerance may find it difficult to get enough of these vitamins and minerals. This may lead to a variety of complications, including:

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Many of the symptoms of food sensitivity can also be symptoms of other conditions. For this reason, it is important to see a healthcare provider to determine the true cause of symptoms. If you are experiencing any unusual symptoms, consider making an appointment with a healthcare provider.

When investigating what could be causing the symptoms, they will take a complete medical history and ask about your symptoms in more detail.

There is no definitive test to identify a food intolerance or food sensitivity. A healthcare provider may instead ask you to keep a food diary to keep track of details, including:

  • What foods are eaten
  • If symptoms occur
  • When symptoms occur

A healthcare provider may also ask you to try cutting out food you are intolerant to for a short time to see if symptoms go away, then reintroduce it to your diet to see if symptoms return.

This can be a long process, as each suspected food will need to be removed and reintroduced individually over two to six weeks per food.

Your primary care provider may refer you to a dietitian who can guide you through a proper elimination diet and ensure you still get all the necessary nutrients when undergoing the elimination diet.

Sometimes, your healthcare provider may order tests to rule out other conditions.

Is There a Test for Food Senstivity?

There are a number of companies that make food sensitivity or food intolerance tests. However, there is no evidence to support the use of these tests in diagnosing food sensitivity or food intolerance.

The best approach is to work with a reputable healthcare provider to determine foods that may be associated with an intolerance or sensitivity.


A food sensitivity is sometimes used as an interchangeable term for food intolerance. This is not the same as a food allergy. Symptoms may include digestive symptoms like diarrhea or gas, skin symptoms like a rash, or respiratory symptoms like wheezing.

In some cases, food intolerances such as lactose intolerance can lead to complications like malnutrition.

There is no definitive test for diagnosing food sensitivities or intolerances. Still, a healthcare provider can help identify what might be causing a food sensitivity or intolerance with the help of tools like a food diary or the elimination diet.

A Word From Verywell

Dealing with a food sensitivity can be frustrating, but help is available. If you are experiencing bothersome symptoms or are worried you might have a food intolerance, reach out to a healthcare provider. They will be able to help you identify what is causing your intolerance, as well as rule out allergies or other conditions.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Are food sensitivity tests accurate?

  3. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Food Intolerance.

  4. Allergy UK. Food intolerance.

  5. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Definition & facts for lactose intolerance.

  6. NHS. Overview - lactose intolerance.